Brushing a Kerry Blue Terrier

Michelle Mace 

Whether your Kerry Blue Terrier is a rescue adoption or purchased from a breeder with show-quality in mind, all Kerries have the same basic grooming requirements in their role as family pets and companions.

No matter what price was paid to acquire your Kerry, the highest cumulative expense your Kerry will incur in its lifetime, barring illness or trauma, is that of routine grooming. 

Every owner wishes to provide the best of everything for their Kerry, but at times the costs of professional grooming can seem out of proportion to the owner’s budget. There are many ways even an owner with no inclination for grooming can help to maintain their Kerry between professional visits, to help keep costs at a minimum.

Aside from Kerries that may get the “budget haircut” of a close trim all over except for a little “breediness” in the fall and beard, most pet Kerries have about 1 D2 to 3 D4″ of body-hair length with the leg hair a bit longer for balance and proportion. Leaving this amount of hair requires some maintenance in the way of brushing, combing, and keeping tangles from forming.

Brushing and combing your Kerry at home not only helps keep him looking good and keeps your grooming costs down, but also provides for special bonding time between you and your dog. Because brushing and combing requires some attention to detail and those “hard-to-reach” places, it also enables you to keep a watchful eye on your dog’s skin condition and overall health. Older Kerries are prone to getting lumps and bumps, and cancer rates are rising in all breeds as they are attaining longer life-spans. Monitoring your Kerry’s body condition allows you to note any changes as early as possible, and any necessary treatment can begin earlier. 

Some owners are squeamish about clipping toenails, so we won’t address that issue in this article. 


Even for the most grooming-disinclined owner of a Kerry, there are two pieces of equipment that none should be without. These are a slicker brush and a metal comb. 

There are many brands of slickers and combs on the market, and they have different features, but none are truly better than any others. Try several kinds if possible, and use what feels best in your hand and that provides the best results on your dog’s coat. 

A basic metal comb, commonly known as a Greyhound comb, comes in either fine/coarse or medium/coarse tooth designs.

If your Kerry has a softer, looser curl then the fine/coarse might be a better choice.

Begin your home-maintenance session by putting your Kerry on a grooming table, countertop, picnic table, or someplace elevated so he does not feel he can exit the session at his whim. A dog on the floor is hard on your knees and back, and he will be more inclined to leave when he feels like it. Folding card tables are not usually sturdy enough to provide stability for the average sized Kerry, and often will make your dog fear being on an elevated surface by wobbling. 

For your Kerry to enjoy these home sessions, he must feel secure, and likewise, for you to enjoy them, having the dog at an easily accessible level will save your back and knees. 

The Head

Start with the dog’s head. It’s always best to have an order or routine, that way you won’t overlook any important areas. Check your dog’s ears by lifting up the flap and doing a visual inspection. If you are able to clean your dog’s ears properly, this would be the time. If you prefer to leave that task to your groomer or vet, then simply note the condition of the ear. If there is a heavy, brown waxy buildup, or a black-ish tarry exudate accompanied by a strong yeasty odor, the ears definitely need professional attention at this time.

Assuming all is well with the ears, next check the eyes. They should be clear, bright and without abnormal discharge. Some slight discharge is normal, and most of the time is minimal, clear and watery. Sometimes this discharge will collect in the inside corners of the eyes as a hardened wad of black stuff referred to as “eye-boogers.” Use a moist paper towel or cloth to soften and remove this.

Kerries, being a bearded breed, will often collect food debris and other things in their beards on a daily basis. It’s always a good idea to wipe your Kerry’s mouth after eating to remove stray food particles, especially if your Kerry eats canned food. You can also use a moist paper towel for this. Since the beard and fall usually consist of longer hair, the comb is more appropriate for this area.

Start at the ends of the hair, not the roots, and comb all face hair in a downward motion. Gradually work the comb through the length of the hair to separate and tangles or clumps. Make sure the tips of the comb teeth go all the way through the thickness of the hair to the skin. All matting starts at skin level, where it is harder to see and remove. 

The Body

After thoroughly combing the head, switch to the slicker brush for the neck and body hair. Using some sort of spray-on conditioner/detangler, or even just plain water, will help the brush to go through the hair more smoothly, and also help prevent breakage and split ends. Use only a light mist on the top of the hair, do not soak to the skin. 

First, brush the coat in the direction in which it grows. Then, start at the dog’s tail, and brush all the hair upwards and forwards. This will help to separate the hairs to the skin level and be most effective for removing tangles, clumps or mats. Also, by stimulating the skin this way, you will help it produce natural oils that will keep your Kerry’s coat lustrous and of the proper texture. 

Expect to remove some hair during the brushing process, but it should not be uncomfortable to your dog. Remove the hair from your slicker brush using the comb. If you brush too hard, you can cause abrasions to the dog’s skin. Find a happy medium that causes effective results without making your dog dance around the table, trying to get away from you. Finally, comb through the dog’s body from neck to tail. The comb should slide easily through the hair, but if you find resistance, re-brush and then re-comb that area until the tangles are gone. 

The Legs

Continue onto the legs in the same manner you did the body. First brush downward, then hold each foot and brush the hair upwards, one layer at a time. Brush a small amount of hair at a time, making sure you get all the way to the skin. After you have brushed all four legs, use your comb, starting with the coarse side first, and run it through the legs, with the tips of the teeth at skin level. If you have missed any tangles, they will stop the comb from going smoothly through the coat. Go back to these areas and separate the clumped hairs apart, brush out and then comb through again. Then repeat the combing with the fine end of the comb.

Repeat this process until you can run the comb through every inch of the dog, and find no more tangles.

Pay particular attention to some areas that tend to clump or matt more than others. These are the armpit areas, the back of the front legs and from the hocks to the foot on the back of the rear legs. These areas get “pressed” when the dog is lying down. The armpits are a “movement” area. The hair rubs against itself when the dog walks, trots or runs. 

The Feet

The last problem area is the feet. On the back of the front leg there is that little “brake pad” a couple inches up from the foot. From that pad down to the foot is where most mats occur in full-haired legs. A major contributing factor is that this hair gets dirtier more often, and also gets wet more often from the dog walking in dewy grass, puddles, etc. 

Dirty hair will matt faster than clean hair, and when Kerry hair gets wet, if left to air-dry unbrushed, it will curl upon itself, clumping together and eventually forming a matt. 

And last but not least, inspect and comb out the hair between the toes. Your groomer should do a good job of clipping the bottom of the feet between the pads, but it is not proper to clip between the toes on a Kerry. Some dogs can pick up thistles, thorns, mud or other debris in this hair, and not only will it form a matt, but it may also be very uncomfortable for your dog.

Brushing your dog in this way can take an average of ten to twenty minutes. Ideally, it should be done once a day, but even once a week will help keep your Kerry looking its best, make less work for your groomer on regular visits, in turn keeping your annual costs down. Then you can spend that extra money on more treats for your wonderful Kerry, and by giving him a treat after every brushing session, he will look forward to his special time with you.

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